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Up and Out of Poverty Now!

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Organizers with Up and Out of Poverty Now! (including Rich Gordon, left) inside an occupied building (1016–18 Iglehart Avenue) in St. Paul, 1991. Photograph by Stormi Greener. Published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, January 6, 1991, with "Activists Occupy St. Paul's HUD buildings," 1A and 10A.

The Minneapolis chapter of Up and Out of Poverty Now! was a highly visible organization created by and for the houseless community in the early 1990s. Although short-lived, Up and Out provided a voice for those without permanent housing and helped secure affordable options for those in need by using the radical tactic of occupying publicly owned buildings.

People have experienced homelessness in the US since the early colonial period. To assist them, the more fortunate created organizations to provide food, housing, and services. Religious organizations were historically the main providers, but in the 1960s and 1970s, secular nonprofits joined in that work. By the late 1980s, people without housing began to create organizations led by and for their own community members. These new organizations tapped into a long history of marginalized people organizing to support their own communities. This history includes organizations like the Black Panthers, the Brown Berets, and the American Indian Movement.

The community-led organization Up and Out of Poverty Now! began in 1989. That year, a broad group of housing advocates attended the Housing Now! Coalition March on Washington for Affordable Housing. The goal was to draw attention to drastic cuts to federal funding for social services and affordable housing. Upwards of 150,000 people participated. Groups had different ideas, however, for tackling the issue of houselessness. Some groups, like the National Union for the Homeless and People United for Economic Justice, criticized others for creating unnecessary bureaucratic barriers and focusing too much on fundraising.

Instead, these groups supported the radical approach of occupying vacant homes owned by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). With this tactic as an organizing principle, activists formed Up and Out of Poverty Now! Up and Out opened chapters across the country, including Minneapolis. In April 1990, Minneapolis Up and Out activists occupied the vacant Nicollet Hotel in downtown. By May 1, they had occupied four vacant houses and a former Washburn-Crosby mill building.

The tactic of occupation met with resistance from some existing social service providers. HUD officials repeatedly told Up and Out “We’re not giving away any housing,” and they refused to work with activists. They cited an existing policy allowing HUD-owned houses to be leased to established nonprofits for one dollar per year. Most of the houses, however, remained unoccupied. They required thousands of dollars in repairs to meet city code—money that nonprofits usually did not have.

Up and Out received a more sympathetic response from Minneapolis leaders. By the end of May 1990, the Minneapolis Community Development Agency (MCDA) gave Up and Out access to a duplex on Columbus Avenue South. The MCDA also agreed to visit a pilot housing program in Philadelphia with Up and Out leaders. Both groups hoped to replicate Philadelphia’s activist-owned housing model in Minneapolis. As part of this deal, Up and Out agreed to vacate the mill building, which the city deemed unsafe for occupation.

Starting in July of 1990, Up and Out occupied a former residence for single women, the Kate Dunwoody Residence in downtown. The building was owned by the University of St. Thomas and slated to become offices for the downtown campus. At the urging of activists, the city and St. Thomas agreed to convert the building into a “low-income hotel” instead. Although the plan met with resistance from business leaders who thought the hotel would scare away customers, the Dunwoody building was opened as the Exodus Hotel in early 1991.

With success in Minneapolis, protests expanded to other Minnesota cities. By January 1991, activists had occupied a HUD-owned building in St. Paul. They took similar action in Duluth by May. The group met its strongest resistance when it tried to occupy vacant houses in more solidly middle-class portions of Minneapolis. An August 1990 occupation in the Nokomis area of South Minneapolis lasted less than twenty-four hours. The protest angered neighbors, and police worked quickly to remove activists.

Accusations of embezzlement caused Up and Out to fade from the public eye by 1995. The effect of their work, however, lived on. As of 2021, the Exodus Hotel continued to operate. The hotel moved from its original building and was under the management of Catholic Charities. In St. Paul, Freedom Place, Inc., which began as an Up and Out occupation, offered affordable transitional sober housing. Several Up and Out leaders continued to advocate for those without permanent housing in Minneapolis and elsewhere. And the tactic of occupying public spaces and vacant properties continued to be used by organizations led by people experiencing houselessness.

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Brandt, Steve. “County Vote May Kill Dunwoody Project; Funds for Homeless Shelter Are Denied.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, November 30, 1990.

Diaz, Kevin. “4 Homeless Activists Arrested in Kate Dunwoody Residence.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 10, 1990.

——— . “Homeless Advocates’ Tactics Draw Officials’ Fire.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 22, 1990.

———. “Homeless Protesters Get Duplex in Deal.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 23, 1990.

———. “Housing Protest a Dilemma for Officials; Occupations Prompt Debate on Tactics.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 5, 1990.

———. “They Seek Dignity for the Homeless, But Group’s Tactics Controversial.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 27, 1990.

———. “University of St. Thomas Plans 96-Room, Low-Income Hotel in Minneapolis.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, November 1, 1990.

Diaz, Kevin, and Jim Parsons. “Council Revives Homeless Shelter Proposal.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, December 15, 1990.

Duchschere, Kevin. “Homeless Protest Moves to Middle-Class Neighborhood.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 20, 1990.

“Exodus Residence.” St. Olaf Catholic Church Website, 2021.
https://www.saintolaf.org/contentpages.aspx?p=0c4c7a2a-2676-4b6d-b5f2-41630eadf4c2.

“The Freedom Place Story.” Freedom Place Website, 2021.
http://www.freedomplaceinc.org

Hotakainen, Rob. “Rally on Homelessness Is Followed by Break-in, Arrest of Nine Protesters.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, December 22, 1987.

“Housing Protesters Return.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 11, 1990.

Kusmer, Kenneth L. Down and Out, and on the Road: The Homeless in American History. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Leyden, Peter. “A Crusade against Homelessness; Activists Occupy St. Paul’s Hud Buildings.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, January 6, 1991.

———. “Hotel Experiment Caters to ‘Working Poor.’” Minneapolis Star Tribune, January 15, 1991.

McAuliffe, Bill. “Group for Homeless Takes over 3 Homes in Cities and Duluth.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 2, 1991.

Motley, Wanda. “Poor Join Forces in ‘Critical’ Time.” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 22, 1989.

Palley, Robin. “Poor People Want to Pull up and out of Poverty: 300 Gather for National Survival Summit.” Philadelphia Daily News, July 22, 1989.

“Squatters in Nicollet Hotel Plan to Continue Their Protest until May 1.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 17, 1990.

Theoharis, Liz. “The Revival of the National Union of the Homeless.” The Nation, March 20, 2020.
https://www.thenation.com/article/society/national-homeless-union

Related Images

Nicollet Hotel, Minneapolis
Nicollet Hotel, Minneapolis
Kate Dunwoody Hall, Minneapolis
Kate Dunwoody Hall, Minneapolis
Up and Out of Poverty Now! organizers at "Hotel Victory"
Up and Out of Poverty Now! organizers at "Hotel Victory"

Turning Point

On April 7, 1990, the Minneapolis-based activist group Up and Out of Poverty Now! occupies the vacant Nicollet Hotel in downtown Minneapolis. The group is organized by and for unhoused people and favors the radical tactic of occupying vacant, usually government-owned properties. The Nicollet Hotel occupation marks the beginning of the group’s activism in Minnesota.

Chronology

1989

The Housing Now! Coalition March on Washington for Affordable Housing takes place in Washington, DC, calling for more federal funding for affordable housing and services for those experiencing houselessness.

1989

Up and Out of Poverty Now! organizes in the wake of the March on Washington. It occupies properties owned by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as a central organizing tactic.

1990

The Minneapolis chapter of Up and Out of Poverty Now! occupies the abandoned Nicollet Hotel in downtown Minneapolis on April 7.

1990

By May 1, protestors occupy four HUD-owned houses and a city-owned mill building—all of them vacant.

1990

Working with the city of Minneapolis, Up and Out secures the use of a duplex on Columbus Avenue. In June, a coalition of activists and city officials travels to Philadelphia to learn about community-led housing operations there.

1990

In July and August, Up and Out members expand their protests again, occupying the Kate Dunwoody Residence downtown and a HUD-owned home in South Minneapolis.

1991

In January, activists occupy a HUD-owned building in St. Paul.

1991

In May, activists occupy another HUD-owned building, this time in Duluth.

1991

Exodus Hotel opens in former Kate Dunwoody Residence.

1995

Up and Out of Poverty! fades from the public view.